The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has more than doubled the tolerable daily intake of the chemical 3-monochloropropane diol (3-MCPD), a contaminant formed during vegetable oil processing which is linked to reduced male fertility and kidney damage.

In an updated scientific opinion published on 10 January, the EFSA raised the safe level of daily 3-MCPD intake from 0.8μg/kg of body weight to 2μg/kg of body weight, two-and-a-half times its previous limit but still only half of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) tolerable limit of 4μg/kg of body weight.

The chemical and its related substance, 3-MCPD ester, are formed unintentionally during vegetable oil refining, particularly of palm oil.

The EFSA originally evaluated the potential risks of 3-MCPD in 2016, concluding that it was a potential health concern.

“EFSA decided to review its assessment after the JECFA subsequently established a different safe level of tolerable daily intake [for 3-MCPD],” said Christer Hofstand, the professor who chaired the 2016 scientific review.

The updated review, based on the same evidence but using an updated methodology, found evidence that male rats exposed to more than 1mg/kg of body weight of 3-MCPD developed reduced sperm mobility and male fecundity, Food Navigator reported on 11 January.

“We checked again the data concerning the effect on development and reproduction, particularly male fertility, as these were highlighted by the JECFA,” said Hofstand. “We calculated the levels at which possible adverse effect on the kidney and on male fertility could occur. The updated tolerable daily intake is protective for both types of effects.”

In its 2016 review, the EFSA also established a limit on another food contaminant called glycidyl fatty acid ester (GE), which the agency concluded was genotoxic and carcinogenic, meaning it both damaged DNA and caused cancer.

The revised review dealt only with 3-MCPD and its esters and not GE, EFSA said, emphasising that its stance on GE had not changed.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive, was currently finalising new legislation aimed at reducing GE levels in vegetable oils and foods, said EFSA.

Henri Rieux, president of European oil suppliers’ and manufacturers’ association Fediol, said the EFSA’s opinion was important for ongoing risk management discussions.

“Mitigation of 3-MCPD esters is particularly complex. It requires an integrated approach, including preventive measures in the country of origin and processing changes, whilst at the same time maintaining other safety and quality parameters and meeting customer and consumer demands,” Rieux said.